A Peach of a Hand in the Movie Tombstone

“The bet’s $500 Holliday, you in or out?”

Like a buried treasure chest, freshly unearthed from its hiding place, the middle of the table was bedazzled with gold rings, pocket watches, necklaces and gold and silver coins, not to mention all the chips and bundles of cash. It was a right out of a Hollywood movie. Who would play pirate and lay claim to this pot?

Focused on the stack in front of him, the camera slowly panned upwards for a close-up of Doc Holliday’s face, now fully concentrated on the task at hand. With five cards fanned out in his left hand, he was moving a single coin left and right across the top of his right hand, using his knuckles, as he contemplated his next move. It’s not an easy trick that, shifting the coin back and forth. It takes practice and skill, and it certainly lets opponents know they’re dealing with a hardened, seasoned gambler. One who’s been in this pressure-cooker before. Both mesmerizing and intimidating.

“Five-hundred?” He asked stone-faced, seemingly emotionless over such a high-stake offering. “It must be a peach of a hand.”

Cult Classic

Widely considered one of the best Westerns of all-time, there is perhaps no film in cinematic history that better defines the gambler and the gunfighter than Tombstone. Set the 1880s, it’s loosely based on the events of Tombstone, Arizona, the Wild West, including the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and depicts many of the legendary lawmen and outlaws of the day. Guys like Wyatt Earp, William Broculus, Johnny Ringo and Doc Holliday are just a few of the names immortalized in the script.

Written by Kevin Jare (The Mummy, 1999, The Devil’s Own, 1997), and directed by George Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II), Tombstone was released on Christmas Day 1993 to rave reviews. It grossed more than $56 million in the United States alone, a huge financial success, and sits at number 16 in the Western genre for highest grossing films since 1979.

Tombstone Poster

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better cast, too. It was star-studded, featuring the likes of Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Sam Elliot as his brother Virgil, and Val Kilmer as the shrewd, but alcohol fuelled and ill-tempered Doc Holliday. Kilmer was so good in this movie, and received wide spread critical acclaim. His portrayal of Holliday is one of the main reasons it remains a cult classic today.

Doc Holliday

In the movie, he’s portrayed as a good guy at heart, helping Wyatt Earp and his clan keep law and order in the dangerous Old West town of Tombstone. A good guy with issues, you might say. The real Doc Holliday, however, a dentist by trade, wasn’t so squeaky clean and innocent. Known to have the “slickest gun in town,” he garnered a reputation for killing upwards of 12 men. Although modern researchers believe that number is more like three men maximum. The point is, wherever he went, an altercation wasn’t far behind. The trouble followed suit.

Doc Holliday

When Holliday joined Earp in Las Vegas in 1979, he rode with him to Prescott, Arizona, and then onto Tombstone. And was eventually deputized two years later. In a confrontation with the outlaw Cochise County Cowboys, they attempted to disarm five members of the gang, near the O.K. Corral, which ended in a blaze of gunfire, and one of the most infamous 30-second shootouts ever.

Phil Hellmuth may have said, “I can dodge bullets, baby,” but he was likely conjuring up images of Holliday as he uttered that famous line at the 2005 World Series of Poker. Holliday literally dodged bullets, and did so his whole adult life. You have to wonder if that risky lifestyle contributed to his drinking? Most likely. Holliday spent the few remaining years of his life in Colorado. He died of tuberculosis in his bed at the Hotel Glenwood at the tender age of 36.

In or Out?

The saloon was noisy, and filled with cigar smoke, and the action was on Holliday. As he considered his options, a lady of the night approached and sat on his lap for a moment. In a seedy gesture of support it seemed. The dealer became increasingly impatient, uttering the directive, “Come on Doc, are you in or out?”

Sensing the sternness in his voice, Holliday slowly downed a shot of whiskey and then quipped, “Well, I suppose I’m deranged, but I guess I’ll just have to call.” As he placed his money in the middle, to signify the call, he nonchalantly rolled over four queens.

“Isn’t that a daisy?” Holliday’s eyes were squarely fixed on his opponent as he asked the question.

“I calculate that’s the end of this town,” he said. With every intent of gathering the horses and setting out for a new town, and a new game to crush.

As he flung open the saloon doors to leave the casino, he stole a few bundles of cash off the roulette table as a parting shot. Once outside, and with time of the essence, he turned to his female companion and said, “let’s not pack the luggage.”

That’s the life of a legendary gambler and gunfighter.

More Poker

There was another memorable poker scene featuring Doc Holliday in Tombstone. One with a more sobering view of the harsh reality of the gambler, gunfighter lifestyle. On a run of good luck, Holliday had scooped some 12 pots in a row. His good fortune was starting to irritate the others around the table. “Nobody’s that lucky,” said one of them, incredulous.

“Maybe poker’s just not your game,” Holliday replied, with all the belligerent tones you might expect at the tail end of a drunken escapade. “Maybe we should have a spelling contest.”

A friendly reminder, with both gambling and drinking, moderation is the key.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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